A few years ago, Warner Bros. released "Three to Tango" - a Matthew Perry comedy in which he's mistaken for being gay and so is hired to 'watch out' for the mistress of a rich bastard and of course falls in love with her.
Many just brushed it off as yet another dud of a Matthew Perry comedy (which it was) but one of the few reasons it sticks in the memory is that the homophobic and rather 'unenlightened' tone about homosexuality felt like something out of a bad and dated 70's movie rather than a major studio release of 1999. If it weren't for a wonderful supporting turn by Oliver Platt and the admittedly good chemistry between Perry & Neve Campbell this would otherwise have only been remembered as a flat studio comedy which was in many ways insulting to the gay community.
Four years on and little has changed except the minority. As 'Tango' was to the gay community, 'House' is to the African-American community - a bland studio comedy which despite a few laughs and good lead characters, is nevertheless shockingly dated and even racist in regards to its material.
Comedy based on race is rarely funny but can be pulled of if cleverly handled and with good quality writing, sadly that ain't present here - characters like Betty White & Joan Plowrights which would be funny if played as satire are done with such a straight face its actually creepy. Its a shame really as the setup is kind of fun and while the script resorts to cliched subplots (ignored kids, fawning over ex-wife) there's still some memorable sequences.
The cast is what keep this baby upright, with Steve Martin returning to the old fashioned physical comedy he hasn't done in a while, whilst Queen Latifah just cooks every moment she's on screen - matching and out doing Martin at almost every turn. This is a duo many wouldn't have thought to put together, but the pair play off each other extremely well whilst Eugene Levy lends solid support.
Even the ubiquitous family members from the gorgeous ex-wife to the rather sidelined young kids make an impression. This is truly a shining example of how a solid cast of actors can take even the blandest of material and make it shine. In particular Latifah just dazzles with every moment she's there.
The racial humour gags rarely work, as demonstrated by an embarassing nightclub scene towards the film's end, yet when it tries for other humour it catches fire. Martin & Latifah have a great fun 'learn how to dance' scene, whilst her ultra-violent catfight with Missi Pyle is one of the most brutal fights you'll see on screen all year yet works perfectly for the material.
Pyle & Martin also have some great word sparring over Pyle's taste in men (ie. elderly millionaires about to die) and his lack of a life. The score, like the material, is peppy but again rather retro in tone. Tighter writing and this could've been a worthy recommendation, but sadly the dated material and all too frequent soggy parts don't compensate enough for what are some great highlights. Here's hoping Martin & Latifah pair up again, but next time lets hope its in something with a bit more street cred.